Summer, and the water’s fine for Brimes Energy

Water sign: Stability is looking good in Brimes Energy's new five-pod "artificial jellyfish."
By GREGORY ZELLER //

A second summer of domestic ocean testing is yielding promising results for Brimes Energy’s “artificial jellyfish” – with a major ocean test off the Philippines about to commence.

Before founder, CEO and native Filipino Ramuel Maramara can take his wave-energy-powered electric generator to his home country, however, several overseas partners – including the University of the Philippines and major in-country utility First Gen – must sign off on the testing plan, which is expected to receive financial support from the Filipino federal government.

Ramuel Maramara: The race is on.

Ramuel Maramara: The race is on.

The agreements are theoretically set, with the university preparing to gather data and the Asian nation’s federal Department of Science and Technology promising to partially fund the ocean testing, “because it’s a prototype that’s going to benefit the country and benefit the industry,” Maramara noted.

But there are “so many things happening in the Philippines,” the CEO added, and synchronizing all the moving parts is proving challenging.

“Technically, it’s a ‘yes’ everywhere,” he told Innovate LI. “But we’re still waiting for the paper and the final grant we’re expecting to get. It will happen this year.”

When it does happen, it will be the biggest test to date for the artificial jellyfish, a gyroscope-centered update on Salter’s Duck, still considered by many alternative-energy insiders to be the current gold standard – albeit, prohibitively inefficient – of wave-energy power generation.

“The Philippines will be a lot bigger,” Maramara noted. “It will be in a 20-kilowatt range. We’re going to test it for our customer, which is the utility company, because they want to know how much power we’re actually producing.”

Hauppauge-based Brimes Energy, a 2014 startup and member of Stony Brook University’s Clean Energy Business Incubator Program, is using the paperwork delay for another round of stateside ocean testing, this time in Lloyd Harbor, tucked in the southwest corner of Huntington Bay. It’s not actually the ocean, Maramara acknowledged, but it’s the ideal spot for this stage of jellyfish testing.

“The wave height is just perfect for what we need,” he said. “We are doing smaller-scale testing, so we need the waves to be smaller scale.”

Specifically, Brimes Energy is testing a wider jellyfish array – five jellyfish “pods” per array – and perfecting its stiff-mooring technology, which connects the array to the ocean floor with a fixed rod, as opposed to an anchored chain.

“We want to improve the stability,” Maramara noted. “When we did some preliminary ocean testing last year, we found we have some problems with rolling. We’ve solved that problem with this new design, which is a lot wider, with the five pods on one shaft.

“And the stiff mooring works wonderfully.”

The shaft, which extends from the ocean floor at a 45-degree angle, is flexible enough to allow the array to rise and drop with the tide and to stay attached when the surface gets choppy. Maramara compared it to the stiff towing fork that’s replacing traditional chains on commercial tow trucks.

“The best idea when you’re towing a car is using a stiff rod, like a steal beam connecting the tow truck and the car,” he said. “That’s what the professionals use.”

The newer, more stable jellyfish array and straight-shaft anchor will be ready in time for the Philippines, added the CEO, who’s less worried about his own technology than his competitors’.

Brimes Energy is “always testing other technologies, so we know where we stand with our competitors,” Maramara noted, and it’s clear there are many worthy runners in the wave-energy race.

“My only concern is there are a lot of other companies trying to do this,” he said. “And there is a run for funding.”

That makes the coming First Gen tryout so important, even if the South China Sea test’s planned 20-kilowatt output – while a big step up for the prototype artificial jellyfish – is well off the target generation goal of 1 megawatt per jellyfish unit.

So Maramara and his team are using every moment of the delay to ensure that when the Filipino government and Brimes Energy’s other international partners finish crossing their T’s, the jellyfish will be ready to roll.

“We are confident with our technology and I’m very happy with the new results we have,” he said. “Everything we’re learning lines up with our expectations of the machine.”

Besides, Maramara added, the delay couldn’t have come at a better time, seasonally.

“Summer is perfect for testing in Lloyd Harbor,” he said. “We have to be in the water, too.”